Tuesday 21 November 2017

Ranieri knows this movie doesn’t end well for him

Sacking a Premier League-winning boss would be harsh - but it might be the only way Leicester can survive

Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri points from the touchline during the Premier League match against Manchester United. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri points from the touchline during the Premier League match against Manchester United. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Claudio Ranieri has seen this movie before but he will never have received so much support when this particular sequel reaches its unhappy ending and, inevitably, he is sacked.

Results are, obviously, the first thing to suffer when a team is going through a rough patch and that is often enough for a manager to be dismissed with a cobbled together statement about mutual consent or players lamenting that things just didn't work out.

If results alone aren't working, however, things move into stage two which, for Ranieri, arrived in Saturday morning's papers.

Last season's improbable charge towards the Premier League title was built on a solid defence but, while cracks have been showing there all season, it's the leaks emanating from the dressing room which now threaten to undermine Ranieri.

On Saturday, both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian "learned" about events behind the scenes at Leicester which is to say, they were told by somebody who wanted it in the public domain but didn't want their name attributed to the information.

This can occasionally unite the team against the common enemy of the media, who can be portrayed as trying to destabilise the club despite just reporting on the information they have reliably been given. If results start to turn, even the mole can keep the head down as they navigate their way into calmer waters while using reporters as the bad guys.

Judging by yesterday's feeble defeat to Manchester United, however, the sniping will work the way it usually does as off-the-record stories seep into the conscience of supporters, players and owners and become a justifiable reason for making a change.

Having got rid of the manager, the same players re-double their efforts, results improve, the owner feels that they have made the right decision and everybody is happy - including, often, the manager with his multi-million pound pay-off.

It happened with the previous team to win the title before Leicester as Chelsea players effectively downed tools on Jose Mourinho with stories of disquiet at his methods coming from the squad who had won the title with him months earlier.

Mourinho was convinced there was a mole in the squad and accused his players of "betraying" him after what turned out to be his final match in charge against Leicester.

For the most part, frustrated supporters stuck with Mourinho with one banner at Stamford Bridge reading "The 3 Rats - Hazard, Cesc and Costa". It would be interesting to know where the outraged fan and their banner were last Saturday when two of the "rats" scored against Arsenal while the other led the line.

What it proves, however, is that supporters might throw their weight behind a manager in frustration with players but all that will be forgotten once results improve, which is where Ranieri has a problem.

There was nothing particularly scandalous in Saturday's leaks which claimed that the 65-year-old was "confusing his players by changing his tactics less than two hours before kick-off"; "instructing his players to train on the morning of midweek games" and "angrily confronting a member of the backroom staff nose-to-nose in the dressing room after a row about football boot studs".

They are, however, perfect little digs to undermine a manager and paint a picture of him losing the plot and panicking (with the first two allegations), becoming obsessed with apparently irrelevant detail (the boot studs) and retreating to his 'Tinkerman' caricature.

Added to that was the "growing concern" from the dressing room; "no suggestion that his job was under immediate threat" and then praise for the job he had done and it might almost have felt as though Ranieri was back at Chelsea, from where he was sacked in 2004.

The players are well aware that with fat new contracts which still have several seasons left to run they are untouchable which means, unless results improve, the club's only option will be to sack Ranieri.

It would, obviously, be harsh but the bottom line now comes down to staying in the Premier League and finding the best man to lead them to do that job and, at the moment, that man doesn't look to be Ranieri.

Players will often rouse themselves for the early stages of big games but the picture becomes clearer in adversity and when that happened yesterday Leicester collapsed like a house of cards by conceding three goals in seven minutes.

On Wednesday, Ranieri faces a team selection which could make or break his season for the FA Cup replay against Derby. If he picks his strongest team, victory could bring confidence ahead of next Sunday's clash against Swansea.

Negativity

Defeat, however, will ramp up the negativity around the club and again throw up suspicions that he has lost the dressing room.

It won't have escaped the notice of Ranieri or the owners that Swansea and Hull City have enjoyed good results since sacking a manager - or in Swansea's case, two - which is why the people who make these decisions start to get itchy trigger fingers at this time of year.

Hull have taken seven points from a possible 12 since Marco Silva's arrival while Paul Clement has six from 12 at Swansea, despite games against Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. By comparison, Leicester have nine points since the start of November and have yet to score a league goal in 2017.

Nothing can take away what Ranieri and Leicester achieved last season and he has been through clubs and sacked enough times to see the writing on the wall sooner or later. When there are leaks on the pitch and in the dressing room, it's only a matter of time until the roof caves in.

Irish Independent

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